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Wednesday, 22 March 1961

Mr JAMES (Hunter) .- I have noticed frequent references in this bill to the necessity to have two witnesses present at the time of solemnization of a marriage. I should imagine that the only reason for that would be to give the clergyman or other person authorized to solemnize the marriage some assurance that the parties to the marriage were qualified to contract the marriage. I should like this bill to make it compulsory for the parties contracting a marriage to place the print of their index finger on the marriage register. The Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) may think that that is stupid but I can assure him that, particularly in the war years, the offence of bigamy was very prevalent.

The Attorney-General will know that, to prove a case of bigamy, particularly under the New South Wales law, is very difficult because the evidence of the wife or husband is not regarded as satisfactory at law and witnesses have to be brought to the court. Great difficulty has been encountered by the Crown law authorities in New South Wales over a long period of years, first in finding witnesses and then in bringing them to court. Many prosecutions for bigamy are abandoned in New South Wales because witnesses would have to be brought from distant places, even interstate, and the cost involved would be considerable. The bigamist has no trouble in arranging a few witnesses to attend a bigamous marriage. That is done time and time again. During the war years there were more prosecutions for bigamy than ever before, due to the fact that two women would go to the Army pay office claiming one man's allotment. In one case of which I have knowledge a man. had " married " seven different women.

Mr Pollard - He was game.

Mr JAMES - Yes. He was game. This man was a criminal and he contested a lot of the accusations against him. He gave no assistance. He took advantage of the principle of British justice that a man cannot be condemned out of his own mouth and he refused to talk. There may have been a lot more than seven bigamous marriage. In another case of which I know a ship's captain married a woman in England, one in Canada and one in Sydney.

Mr Killen - In only three ports?

Mr JAMES - There could have been others, but he was charged with the offence of bigamy in relation to the third marriage - the one in Sydney. In order to get him acquitted, his counsel disclosed the marriage in England because the Crown, in its indictment, had cited the marriage in Canada as the legal one and the marriage in Sydney as the bigamous one. Actually, the legal marriage was in England and the one in Canada was not a valid marriage. The AttorneyGeneral knows the counsel concerned very well. He is now a judge. He was not appointed by the Attorney-General, I am glad to say. The bigamist was recharged, but due to the fact that the Crown could not get witnesses from England, he was acquitted. He was broke when he was acquitted, I might add.

It is my submission that if a person had to imprint his index finger on the marriage register, the certificate would be sufficient proof that a person had gone through a form of marriage. Probably, the AttorneyGeneral would not like to amend the bill to meet my request because it would restrict the income of lawyers and so offend the Bar Council. I say that with all due respect to legal men in this chamber, including the respected Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam). However, I seriously suggest that, if it is not too late, the AttorneyGeneral should give some thought to my suggestion in order to make prosecutions of bigamists easier and the cost to the taxpayer of launching prosecutions much less.

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